Luke 3: 1-6
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
Luke has finished his childhood stories; now he returns to John the Baptist, and his ministry. But first, he sets the stage – telling his readers when and where this happened. It is in the 15th year of Tiberias Caesar, which would be 28 – 29 CE; Pontius Pilate was Procurator of Judea from 26 to 36 CE. The land of Herod the Great had been divided into four “Tetrarchy’s” and Luke lists the rulers of each. The original ruler of Judea had been replaced by the Roman Procurator. The Chief Priests were the principal authorities in Israel’s religion – although the office had been a life-time position, Rome appointed and deposed those holding that position. At this time, Luke tells us, Annas, the Chief Priest, had been replaced by his Son-in-Law, Caiaphas. Essentially, they presided together.
But this is more than just an introduction and a setting of the stage – it is an affirmation of the role of John as a prophet of the Lord, for this is the way the books of the prophets begin. For example, Zechariah begins, “1In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, saying: 2The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 3Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. “
Some believe that John lived for a time with the Qumran community – a group who resided in the desert. They adhered closely to the faith, especially revering the prophecies of Isaiah, and they practiced ritual bathing, for cleansing and forgiveness. It was in the caves above Qumran that the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden. It is quite possible that John’s baptism of forgiveness derived from the practices at Qumran.
Luke tells us that the word of the Lord came to John in the wilderness. (Luke reminds us that this is Zechariah’s son, whom he had introduced at the beginning.) And John preached in all the region of the Jordan, and his message was one of returning to the Lord, a baptism of repentance for sin. Luke quotes Isaiah – the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord; it is to be a message of salvation for all people.
a ritual bathing pool at Qumran